> david klinghoffer

Published in 2009, Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design has already been recognized as establishing one of the strongest pillars underlying the argument for intelligent design. This massive and massively original work needs to be read and studied by every thoughtful person who cares about what is surely the ultimate question facing every human being: Where did life come from? Charles Darwin himself did not seek to resolve that mystery but his modern followers believe the problem is well in hand, along Darwinian lines, offering a variety of purely materialist explanations for the origin of the biological information coded in DNA. Meyer masterfully sweeps aside all such guesses and assumptions and demonstrates that science points to an origin of life emanating from somewhere or someone outside nature.

To call Meyer’s book fascinating and important is an understatement. No less interesting in its way, however, was the critical response and it is with that the book you are reading now is concerned. For the fact is that despite its being written about in print and online by numerous friends and foes of intelligent-design theory, few—if any—of the critics really grappled with the substance of Meyer’s argument. This is remarkable and telling.

In the pages that follow, which include links to the critics’ own writings, defenders of Stephen Meyer’s book analyze the hostile response. The chapters here all appeared previously, most on the Discovery Institute’s group blog site, Evolution News & Views (ENV), on the BioLogos site, or in the journal Salvo. The book is organized along the following lines. In Part I, Meyer and his defenders go to work on the horde of Signature-bashers who not only did not read the book but in most instances did not even take the trouble to inform themselves about its contents. These latter include even so eminent a biologist as Francisco Ayala of the University of California, Irvine—of whom, more in a moment. In Part II, Meyer and other friends of ID reply to critics who actually took the time to read Signature in the Cell before attacking it. This turned out to be a relative rarity, for reasons that are worth pondering. While Parts I and II deal with Signature’s more serious critics, or anyway those with reputations for seriousness, Part III concentrates on the crowd of pygmies who populate the furious, often obscene Darwinist blogs.

Admittedly, in editing this volume, it was not always obvious to me which critics belong under which heading. For example, Jerry Coyne is a University of Chicago biologist who lately seems to spend most of his time blogging. Yet he clearly belongs among the ranks of the more distinguished writers who bashed Meyer’s book without reading it or reading about it. On the other hand, such an individual as blogger Jeffrey Shallit, mathematician at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada—not to be confused with the University of Wallamaloo of Monty Python fame—may object to being classed as a pygmy. Oh well. Sorry.

Readers of this book may wonder why the essays and blog posts collected here include many responses to critics who attacked Signature in the Cell without having read it. Wouldn’t it be more illuminating to engage solely with those who are at least adequately familiar with what Stephen Meyer wrote? The truth is, it was necessary both to write and to collect and publish these defenses because some of the most prominent attacks were precisely from scientists who did not read the book but felt entitled to comment anyway. This fact is important because it illustrates the difficulty faced by the intelligent-design community in seeking to get a fair hearing. Thus, a point worth repeating, the aforementioned Francisco Ayala critiqued Signature in the Cell at length despite having virtually no idea what is in it. Let that sink in.

It’s funny, or maybe just sad. A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Townhall magazine about the suppression of intelligent-design advocates in university and other academic settings. At the time I was writing it, I sent an email to several prominent theistic evolutionists and other Darwin defenders, including Dr. Ayala. I asked:

Critics of ID argue that one failing of ID theory, among others, is that it hasn’t been backed up by research. If you were to imagine a university-employed scientist who wanted to do such research, would he be completely free to do so? Or, as ID advocates say, would he more likely be dissuaded by pressure from peers or supervisors?

Ayala replied:
He would be free to do so. I cannot imagine any serious scientist or academic administrator trying to dissuade anybody else from carrying out any well-designed research project (or, in fact, almost any research project). Our academic freedom to pursue any research we wish is something precious that we value as much as any other academic value.

Well, that is just rich. After the experiences of Sternberg, Gonzalez, Crocker, Marks, Minnich, Dembski, Coppedge—chronicled on ENV and elsewhere, along with other suppressed scientists yet to be named and still others too worried about reprisals to let themselves to be identified—we know Ayala’s statement to be utterly false. When it comes to publicly doubting Darwin, serious scientists would be justified in feeling intimidated. In part, the fear of speaking out is maintained by the realization that if you raise your voice, your view will not merely be criticized. It will be distorted so as to prejudice public and professional opinion against you.

What we have in the Ayala affair, a genuine scandal, is a telling illustration of how that works.